Sometimes I give a little behind-the-scenes of entertainment jobs, the ones you might not know much about. Ben Hochstein is a music supervisor, easily one of the coolest jobs in the industry. Every television show or movie you watch has some sort of music supervisor. Music sets the whole tone of a scene and of the overall project. Ben has worked with The Gorilla for several years now, so I asked him a few questions about what it's like to be a music supervisor in Hollywood.
Tell me exactly what it is a music supervisor does?
We are responsible for the musical vision of a film, TV show, video game, commercial, webisode, etc. We work with composers, editors, directors and producers to identify the right songs and score. Then it is the music sups responsibility to procure the licenses and other legal requirements. This job is 50% creative, 50% paperwork.
How do you find the music? Are you always searching for new stuff or is your library so vast that you pull from it? If you look for new, where do you look? Music blogs/mags? Word of mouth? Live shows?
I am always on the look for the latest and greatest. You named a lot of the sources I use to find new music. Blogs are great and there are thousands out there. Some of the more accessible ones I'd recommend: PopMatters, Sterogum, Spinner and Brooklyn Vegan. As music supervisors we get pitched music by labels, music publishers, and third party music companies that represent several artists. I'll put the word out what kind of music I am looking for on a particular project and I will have 25 emails within the day. The trick is knowing which sources to trust! There are 20 bad songs out there for every good song! Make that 100 bad songs.
So who are you mostly in collaboration with? The director? Producers? The music artists? Lawyers?
You named most of them! On a film the director is the top creative person and the Showrunner on a TV show, who is also usually the head writer. One of the cool parts of the job is working directly with the top creative minds on a project. One of the downsides is working with music lawyers!
How does one get such a job? How did YOU fall into this line of work?
"Fall into" is the apt phrase. I used to go to a lot of live shows and just happened to meet some MTV music supervisors at the Kings of Leon and Secret Machines show. I never planned to get into this line of work, I never even knew what a music supervisor was, but I always wanted to work in film or TV and after not getting fired for a couple years I thought, "hey, maybe I can make a career out of this." People always ask me for advice on how to get into music supervising and I don't have very useful advice. Unfortunately it is one of those niche Hollywood jobs that involves a lot of luck or knowing the right person. I do say to stay around the music and production worlds and wait for a break. Assistant and music coordinator openings do arise once in a while.
What are qualities in a good music supervisor, besides an obvious love of music?
I would put a love and knowledge of music at number 3 on the list behind organization and excellent people skills. Well, that's exaggerating a bit, but a lot of people know music, but it takes sensitivity and humility to navigate the highly volatile entertainment industry. You have to know how to put your ego aside when it comes to something as subjective as music. Often times you think you have the perfect song for a scene and the director will say, that song sucks, "I'd love to see a Green Day song here!"
How is a band or artist paid for their work? Do they get a flat fee per song or is it dependent on how many seconds the song is played, etc.?
A band will get paid an upfront fee and then royalties every time the song airs on TV. Length of use, type of use (vocal, theme, etc), and station of exhibition all matter, but it's a bit of a nebulous formula for royalty calculation. No one can say for sure and there is often a lot of controversy surrounding music royalties. For example, songs appearing on the internet in webisodes get paid cents for each use, while a song on network television can get thousands. As for upfront fees they vary a lot as well, an inide band can make $200 for a webisode and Mick Jagger can make seven figures for a major studio film. As you can imagine the fame of the artist drives the price.
What do you think about it when bands get called "sell outs" for giving their music to be used commercially?
The concept of selling out doesn't have the stigma it once did. As record sales plummet there are fewer places out there to make money as a band and music licensing is one of the best. Of course bands will always be very protective of what type of projects they are involved with, but making enough to finance your next album or buy new gear by just signing a contract is very appealing!
Music on tv shows or movies can break a band out of obscurity and into the big time? What would you say to a young artist looking to get their stuff out there?
I'd say do what you would do if you are trying to become a successful band in general, build organically with live shows, cool online videos, and most importantly great songs. Music supervisors follow the musical zeitgeist closely and are obsessed with finding what is new and upcoming. There are many outstanding indie labels and pitching companies that will get your music in the hands of music supervisors with out screwing you over. And never sell your publishing!
Thanks, Ben! Fascinating stuff.
photo by kevin dooley